Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Garth Turner - Updates

I may not agree with Garth Turner on a lot of manners of policy, but I have to admire the man's forthrightness on his blog, especially in the wake of his recent expulsion from the Conservative caucus.

His articles from the last few days are quite revealing - both of his current situation and headspace, but also of other aspects of the workings of the Harper government that the public should know more about.

On October 21, he has posted a copy of an article from the Ottawa Citizen which draws more or less the same lines I had between Turner's expulsion and the party TheoCons flexing their muscles.

I'll reproduce one paragraph of the article because it so beautifully illustrates the incommunicado nature of the current government:

It should have been no surprise to Mr. Turner that Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not want backbench MPs to speak publicly about anything over the summer, let alone caucus beefs. The muzzle Mr. Harper has on his caucus could make a pitbull legal in Ontario, and NDP MP Pat Martin quotes a joke making the rounds: “Harper tells his caucus God kills a puppy every time an MP blabs.” Conservative whip Jay Hill cited with pride at the end of the summer break that it had been a quiet one; no backbench problems. For journalists trying to reach MPs in their ridings, it was like phoning a morgue. No one called back.

Open, honest and accountable government, eh? So why so strict a muzzle?

Following up are a couple of interesting discussions of the behaviour of the caucus, and the clear expectations for uniformity of opinion:

Oct 22
Oct 23
Oct 23 - Part ii

From these last two are some interesting footnotes:

And in I went. I spoke to the Speaker and worked out a way to ask questions every few days in Question Period. As a Conservative MP, I had been banned from doing so by the party.

I arranged to make statements in the House regularly on issues that need to be addressed. As a Conservative MP, any rare statement had to receive both advance permission and approval of the script.

I have started the process of being able to table private member’s bills. As a Conservative MP, I was not allowed to pursue any legislative initiative without ministerial approval.

While I can appreciate that party discipline does oblige some constraint on an individual member's actions in the house, it's interesting that Harper's government has locked it down to the point where an MP cannot, for example, introduce a private member's bill at all without the consent of a minister. (I presume the minister most affected by a bill) Certainly, under Chretien, various Liberal backbenchers presented legislation to the house that was at odds with the governing party's script numerous times.

Then, as I stated yesterday, I head back to the Hill. This is a switch in plans since I was already booked to fly to Halifax this morning, for a full day of media interviews on my role on the Finance Committee. I’d asked taxpayers there last week for bright ideas for the coming budget, to include in my pre-budget report for Jim Flaherty.

But, they’ve kicked me off the committee. Yeah, that, too.

This is a tad more profound than it might appear, since House of Commons committees are intended to be all-party affairs, and one of the only places where MPs from all political backgrounds get together to try and do constructive things. The fact I have been removed – the only MP on one side of the table with a financial and economic background, government experience and cabinet experience (facing two hugely experienced former Liberal cabmins and a very able colleague, plus a Bloc economist and an impressive NDP expert) – hints at the Harper Administration agenda.

Well, being punted from the Finance committee probably isn't terribly surprising in itself, but Garth is correct that committees are intended to be all-party creatures. However, I think he also has just run smack into the monolith of uniformity that TheoCons seem to demand.

This government has actually had a PMO senior staffer in national caucus recently instructing MPs on how to politicize the committees and turn them into instruments of government policy. Tory MPs are instructed to meet before committee meetings to plan strategy to help ministers, and to be assigned questions to ask witnesses. Attendance at these meetings is mandatory, and recorded.

I'm sure to some degree or another, other parties do the same things. It's interesting to note that this appears to be directed from the PMO, and is being so strictly regulated.

Remember, this is coming from a party that claimed it was going to deliver an open, honest government, and maybe even start the process of democratic reform. But how genuine is any committment to reform from a party that shows us - repeatedly - that it is profoundly undemocratic internally?


Scout said...

turner is an interesting man, and while i'm like you and don't always agree with him, the behind the scenes stories are of utmost importance.

next i'm sure the theo cons will be calling him judas.

Grog said...

From what I'm hearing, the TheoCons are calling him much worse than that.

an older sister said...

Mr Harper recently appeared (& given the way he's stage-managed, 'appeared' is the right word) at the NL PC meeting in Gander. Sorry I don't have the quote, but he spoke of the re-branding of Canada. He wasn't referring to a little nip 'n' tuck or perhaps a new girdle for those photo ops.
I'm surprised Mr Turner lasted as long as he did. I think he was going to be turfed out regardless & it was a matter of choosing the most opportune moment to do the dirty.